In each person are several tightly connected pieces. Our bodies are wonderful in their design. We are an adaptable and resilient complex web of cells, organs, bone, and blood. But we are more than just the mechanical and chemical pieces of the human body. We also have emotions, feelings, imagination, personality, and self-awareness. Through these, we exercise love, hate, desires, anger, compassion, justice, mercy, hope, fear, warmth, and grief (to name just a few).
The Bible identifies that each person has three primary components; body, soul, and spirit. For instance, “Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, NLT) But the Bible also recognizes that the soul and spirit are so tightly bound together they are difficult to separate. “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12, NLT)
We can break all the pieces down this way. Our body is the physical part we see in the mirror. Our soul is a complex stew of emotion, personality, mind, memory, and imagination. Our spirit is the mysterious part connecting us with God. Our conscience is there along with a yearning for wholeness and eternity. That nearly indivisible combination of soul and spirit is often called our heart; not the blood pump but the central core of our being.
In many ways, the complex unity of body, soul, and spirit is like the unity of the Trinity. We are only whole when all three are present and active. Some philosophers have proposed that our existence as purely spiritual. As in the formula of “we are a spirit, have a soul, and live in a body.” A formula not found in the Bible. We are a God created whole, when one of the three is deadened or wounded we are less than God created us to be.
I know the above may be a controversial statement. Let me explain just a bit more. The modern usage of “we are a soul and have a body” (Soul being the amalgam of what we call soul and spirit.) goes back to the spiritualism of the mid to late 1800s and finds its footing in Gnosticism and Plato. It entered into modern Christian vocabulary as an attempt to correct materialism and find common ground with the prevailing spiritualism of the age. To understand spiritualism think seances and ghost stories. Prior to that point, the more common Christian teaching was “we are a body with a soul.” But salvation in Christ is a whole person experience. Our spirits are made new, our minds are transformed, we find purpose in living (just to name a few). In Christ, we are saved body, soul, and spirit. One day our present body will die but the promise of eternity with Christ is as a completed whole. “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.” (1 Corinthians 15:52, NLT)
In order for this section to be more complete, we must look ahead a bit. We’ll discover in our next entry of The Basics the wrong choices which separated humankind from God. We became disconnected and deadened from God like the numbness and dysfunction following nerve damage. The pinnacle of the Biblical narrative is God providing a way for us to become reconnected with Him and find abundant, eternal, full and satisfying life.
How humanity went from the darling of creation to being dead and dying to then be offered a new life is the grand arc of the Biblical narrative. Within that arc, God’s promises are always towards completeness, wholeness, and healing. This abundant new life we encounter touches everything, our desires, our hopes, our mind, our imagination, our heart, our motivations, and our choices. Later in our exploration of the basics, we’ll look deeply into this renewal called salvation. At this point, it is sufficient to understand that God created us as a complex whole of body, soul, and spirit. How that whole became broken is the next entry in our review of the basics.